There’s nothing better than getting into the groove of running. That place where you eagerly look forward to Friday night – no longer because it means frimibo (the delicious Dutch word for drinks and snacks on a patio), but because Saturday morning means starting the weekend with a nice group run. Where you more-or-less happily set your alarm clock an hour earlier on Monday morning so you can strap on your sneakers. The place where you feel like you are making real progress – the runs are a bit easier, you don’t seem to be quite as exhausted afterwards, and you really start believing you’ll be able to run 16/21/42km in a couple of months’ time.
And then. Snap. Pop. Pang. Ouch. An injury.
Maybe it’s sudden, like a twisted ankle when running through the bos. Or a slow ache in your knee that is gradually getting worse, not better. For me, it was the unwanted familiarity of not one, but two old injuries that I had hoped were gone for good. A knee injury that I had been working on fixing for six months before starting to run, and my favourite old friend, the tight as rope hip flexor that has plagued me like a 90 year old for the last fifteen years. I thought perhaps that I had the upper hand going into this training – I was aware of these injuries, knew what signs to look for in case they reared their ugly head. Surely that would mean I would be able to beat them?!?
But what I have learned is that injury prevention takes more than just awareness of your weak spots – it takes action and time.
In the first few weeks of our Dam tot Dam training, coaches Laurie and Peter gave a couple of great coaches’ talks on injury prevention. I dutifully listened and took notes – I was going to do everything right in this training to make it across the finish line on September 20th. But in the first few weeks of training I just felt so good! I didn’t need to think about ice baths, or stretching regularly or extra hydration – my body was just going to take care of itself, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong.
It’s called injury prevention because it is the things you can do before getting injured, to avoid the pain in the first place. So with that in mind, for all of you starting to run, or running now but perhaps being a bit too much like me and assuming everything will be fine, here are some top tips from our coaches on injury prevention.
- If it hurts, stop. Period. This isn’t the same as saying if it’s hard, stop. It will be hard. But if you feel pain – a sharp burst, a constant ache, a pop – call it quits for that day. Our bodies are amazing at giving us signs; the key is to listen to them. There is no shame in cutting a run short and letting your body rest if that’s what it’s telling you it needs.
- Recover and rest. The House of Running training plans build recovery weeks in, to ensure that your body has time to rest and adjust to the new levels of strain you are putting on it. But it’s really easy when you’re feeling good to look at the recovery week and think, “well no harm will be done if I just add some more distance on…” Ahem, actually, harm is exactly what could come of it. So listen to the training, and spend your recovery week treating yourself well – hot baths with Epsom salts, long walks, yoga classes and lots of water.
- Speaking of water… Hydrate! The benefits of water are many and well documented. Not only is it what our bodies are mostly made up of, but it’s essential for our muscles, bones and joints to function well. If you go into a run dehydrated, the chance of injury goes up significantly. So make it a habit to drink more water the day before a run, especially in warm weather. An extra (but controversial) tip from Peter: beer doesn’t count. If you’re indulging in a few bevvies, make sure you drink an extra glass of water for each boozey drink.
- Eat well. I won’t lie – sometimes my favourite way to reward myself after a long run is with some delicious Indian takeaway, or a plate of bitterballen. But the truth is, these foods aren’t doing anything to give my body what it needs to build strength. Imagine pouring a gallon of Coke into your car and expecting it to get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam without breaking down. Uh uh. Our bodies are the same – if we expect them to function properly and not start falling apart, we need to fill them with the good stuff. Think veggies and fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds and lean protein. You’ll feel it in your runs, I promise. There is nothing more obvious than the trudging run after a week of eating out and indulging versus the light run after a week of delicious, healthy food.
- 5. Warm up/cool down. I’ve always dreamed of being a morning athlete, able to get up bright and early and fit in a run or workout before starting the day. But I’ve always found those mornings ten times more challenging. One of the big reasons? Lack of warm up. Probably unsurprisingly to most, jumping out of bed and starting to run 5 minutes later doesn’t give my body much time to wake up and get ready. It needs some love, some encouragement, to get ready for what I’m asking it to do. And the same is true anytime you run – unless you’ve been active just before starting on a run, spend 5-10 minutes doing short exercises to get your joints moving and your muscles ready. And after a run? As tempting as it is to collapse on the sidewalk, or head straight to the closest café for that well-deserved full-fat latte, taking a few minutes to cool down and stretch will mean skipping the pain and tightness later. Especially if you know you have problem areas (like a super tight hip flexor…), don’t skip this. You will pay for it ten times over.
One of the best parts of being in a run club is the community around you, so if none of the above is working, or you’re just unsure about some pain you feel, talk to your trainers, coaches and fellow runners! Chances are most of them have experienced some kind of injury along their training. Not only can they provide useful tips, but can help you deal with the mental and emotional challenges that comes with injury.
And for me? If only I could go back in time two months and follow my own advice, perhaps these injuries wouldn’t be holding me back now. But unless anyone out there has a time machine (seriously, anyone?!?) my job now is to focus on healing and getting myself back to a place where I can keep training. It means a few weeks off from running, a lot of time with my physio and many mental self-talks, reminding myself that this does not mean failure, simply a setback.
To use a classic (and more than appropriate) metaphor, running for me is a marathon, not a sprint. Meaning that I need to keep looking at the big picture, at my goal of still being able to run in 10, 20, 30 years, and understand that spending time to heal now might mean I can do that, whereas pushing through an injury and forcing my body to go places it’s not ready to, would mean risking my long term health.
And you? Listen to yourself, your coaches, and heed the 5 tips above to make sure we don’t run into each other at the physio office in the next few months.